When Disney had the rights to this admirable adaptation of John Boyne’s novel, they didn’t give it a release on Blu-ray disc. Now with the distribution duties passed on to Lionsgate, this wrong can now be righted.
As a production, you can tell the film is in good hands when the titles display those involved. It is made by Heyday Films, the company responsible for the Harry Potter adaptations, in collaboration with the BBC. Although partly financed by Hollywood through Walt Disney and Miramax, it’s good to see UK companies getting involved in bringing some of our best works of modern literature to the big screen.
The film is a sensitively realised Holocaust story, told from the perspective of eight-year-old Bruno, who makes friends with a young Jewish boy who is held captive in Auschwitz. Bruno is the son of a Commander for the concentration camp, and lives with his family only a short walk away from the terrible place. Naturally, Bruno explores his surroundings and comes across the people, behind the fence of the death camp, who seem to be wearing pyjamas. He doesn’t understand, when he chats to his new-found friend Shmuel, that there is such a world of difference between them. He actually expresses envy of Scmuel’s life, and wishes he could join him inside the camp.
The child-like naivety of Bruno is, I feel, better represented in the film as it was in the book. His childish, innocent sensibilities are believable and uncontrived. The young actor who plays him, Asa Butterfield, is excellently understated, and conveys confusion, anger and upset in a very honest and affecting way. David Thewlis, as his Nazi father is also typically good, but the really heartbreaking turn comes from American actress Vera Farmiga as his mother who is appalled at the work her husband is doing for Adolf Hitler.
The tone is rather simplistic, although this is a necessary part of bringing to life a story that is, after all, intended to teach children about the Holocaust in an non-sensationalist way. Those familiar with the original text will be aware that there is not a happy ending to this tale of boyhood and friendship. Thankfully, director Mark Herman handles the devastating closing scenes with great care without shying away from the horrors the Nazis committed during the Second World War.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008), directed by Mark Kerman, is available on Blu-ray disc and DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Certificate 12.